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  Don’t panic! Carry a towel for your safety

Don’t panic! Carry a towel for your safety

Published : May 25, 2016, 2:34 am IST
Updated : May 25, 2016, 2:34 am IST

A still from the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy in which two prominent characters (right) of the novel can be seen carrying a towel — the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

A still from the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy in which two prominent characters (right) of the novel can be seen carrying a towel — the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

When the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council was all set to demolish Earth to build a hyperspatial express, Arthur Dent was busy hyperventilating. Just earlier in the day, he was lying in front of a big yellow bulldozer in a vain bid to protect his house from being demolished to build a bypass. It was the town council’s idea to come up with the said structure. Ford Prefect, on the other hand, was succeeding in maintaining a semblance of calm as all this was transpiring.


Prefect was from Betelgeuse. And he had his towel with him.

“The towel”,) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, says, “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” It goes on to expound that other than wrapping it around yourself for warmth, you can use the towel to wave as a distress signal when, for instance, you are trying to escape from the Earth in a hurry.

May 25 is celebrated the world over as Towel Day. This is the day when froods carry with them their towel for all the universe to see, and proclaim categorically what amazingly put together people they are. These are fans of Douglas Adams and his enormously intelligent and supremely witty oeuvre. Ask them what is the secret of life, the universe and everything, and they’ll unabashedly answer: 42. I know, because I do the same.


Douglas Noel Adams was born on March 11, 1952, in Cambridge, UK. He famously joked that he was the first DNA to come out of Cambridge, referring to Watson and Crick’s discovery, and subsequent anno-uncement of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953.

Douglas Adams was tall. Even as a young boy atte-nding Brentwood School in Essex, he was nearly six feet tall. He often remarked that on class trips, his tea-chers wouldn’t say, “Meet under the clock tower,” or “Meet under the war mem-orial,” but, “Meet under Adams.”

In 1971, an 18-year-old Douglas Adams was lying drunk in the fields of Innsbruck, Austria. He was travelling through Europe with a stolen copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to Europe. “I hadn’t read Europe in Five Dollars a Day,” he confessed years later, “I wasn’t in that financial league.” Enervated, looking up at the night sky, he thought someone ought to write The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and then promptly forgot about it.


Until six years later. He was then at Cambridge, ostensibly studying for a degree in English, but mainly trying rather unsuccessfully to get a foot into Footlights. He missed a lot of deadlines on assignments, a trait which would be his for the rest of his life. “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by,” he once remarked.

Slowly and unsteadily, after a string of unsuccessful jobs (chicken shed cleaner, lift operator to a wealthy Saudi businessman), his writing career took off in the same fashion: slowly and unsteadily. The drunken thought that he first had while lying stargazing in Innsbruck revisited him, and he wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a BBC Radio Series. People loved it, and gradually enough it was adapted into various formats, including stage shows, novels, TV series, a computer game, and a feature film.


Not just a brilliant mind, Douglas Adams had a compassionate heart as well. He was a gallant crusader for Save The Rhino International, and once climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit (while missing some deadlines) to raise awareness for the cause. The aye-aye lemur, the Chinese dolphin baiji, and the kakapo from New Zealand are the other animals that Douglas Adams travelled far to see and wrote about in The Last Chance to See.

A larger-than-life man, Douglas Adams died of a heart attack in 2001. He was 49. Two weeks after his death, on May 25, 2001, Towel Day was organised for the first time. Descri-bing the choice of the day to pay tribute to the much-loved writer, states: As the universe that Douglas Adams created was full of absurdity and randomness, it may be a fitting choice after all. Every year since then, Douglas Adams-o-philes openly carry their towels with them to work, to libraries, and just about anywhere. Notably, last year, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti read aloud a section from The Hitchhik-er’s Guide to the Galaxy from the International Sp-ace Station, and tweeted an image of her carrying her towel and wearing a T-shi-rt with the slogan, “Don’t Panic and carry a towel.”


Towels are a good thing. Roosta knows. He’s accompanying Zaphod Beeblebrox to Frogstar — the most totally evil place in the Universe. The yellow stripes on his towel are rich in protein, the green ones have Vitamins B and C, and the pink flowers in it have wheat germ extracts. The brown stains are Bar-B-Q sauce. And the other end of the towel has antidepressants. Needless to say, he spends quite some time in routine towel maintenance.

So there you have it. The nitty-gritty of Towel Day. Bring out yours, and wave it around. Who knows, you might just hitch a hike on a passing flying saucer. Or at the very least you’ll let the world know what a hoopy person you are. Which in hitchhiking slang translates to: There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.


The author teaches chemistry at Women’s Christian College, Chennai